Comparing American and European perspectives on tech and privacy

An illustration picture shows a network cable next to a pack of smartphones in Berlin, June 7, 2013. The debate over whether the U.S. government is violating citizens' privacy rights while trying to protect them from terrorism escalated dramatically on Thursday amid reports that authorities have collected data on millions of phone users and tapped into servers at nine internet companies.   REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski   (GERMANY - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY BUSINESS) - BM2E967131Y01

On March 29, 2019, the Brookings Foreign Policy program hosted the sixth annual Justice Stephen Breyer Lecture on International Law. This year’s event focused on the challenges of regulating digital technology, especially in the areas of privacy and data protection, through the comparative perspective of the United States and the European Union. Keynote remarks by Jeroen van den Hoven, professor of ethics and technology at Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands, explored the differences in how the United States, the European Union, and countries like China have approached the use of artificial intelligence. He emphasized the importance of the human and ethical principles that underlie the European model of digital governance and the need for “ethics by design” as a way of deliberately integrating shared values through innovative algorithmic, software, and hardware products and services.  

During the panel discussion that followed, Jeroen van den Hoven joined Brookings Distinguished Fellow Cameron Kerry, Bilyana Petkova from the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and Nicol Turner-Lee, a fellow with the Brookings Center for Technology Innovation, to further examine the areas of digital policy convergence and divergence between the United States and the European Union. These include differences in legal and regulatory systems and cultures that have contributed to a more decentralized approach in the United States and greater protections for privacy in Europe. The panelists agreed on the important role states and businesses play in driving federal data privacy legislation as well as the powerful democratic interests and principles that the United States and the European Union share with regard to protecting data, which could help guide a transatlantic harmonization of standards going forward.